Elizabeth Ratliff’s Mysterious Staircase Death in Germany

Exhuming Elizabeth Ratliff’s Body

In April, the Durham District Attorney’s Office had Ratliff’s body exhumed from her Bay City, Texas grave and transported via police escort to North Carolina.

Ratliff’s body was exhumed in March 2003 at the request of Durham District Attorney Jim Hardin in connection with a murder charge against Michael Peterson, Elizabeth Ratliff’s neighbor at the time of her death.

For 18 years, it was thought that Elizabeth Ratliff had suffered a natural brain hemorrhage and fallen down the stairs in her home.

The autopsy results were released at the end April 2003, stating that Elizabeth was the victim of a homicide and not a stroke as originally thought. The report says because of the character and number of scalp lacerations, the trauma inflicted on Ratliff is clearly from what is called a “homicidal assault.”

Pathologists said they found deep lacerations on Ratliff’s head that they say were caused by an assault. Kathleen Peterson’s body suffered injuries similar to Elizabeth Ratliff’s. Kathleen Peterson was found dead on the stairs in the couple’s Durham home.

Ratliff’s sister, Rosemary Kelloway, said the autopsy report came as a shock to her family. Rosemary said she traveled hundreds of miles to be in Durham and said she was looking for justice. Kelloway said her family became suspicious after Kathleen Peterson’s death.

Art Holland, the lead investigator of the case, received a phone call from Margaret Blair, Liz Ratliff’s sister, two days after Kathleen’s death. The body was not exhumed until March 2003. The autopsy results were released at the end April. The trial started May 1, 2003.

“After all of these years, finding out that the blood scene was just like Kathleen’s,” she said, was like reliving her death all over again. It was horrific. You can’t imagine how hard it has been to realize that back in 1985 your sister did not die of natural causes, as was reported, but by homicidal attack. It’s been hard on all of us, but especially my mother, said Kelloway, who along with her sister has asked German authorities to consider reopening the case.

Another aspect that has been hard for Kelloway to swallow is that Peterson was named guardian of Ratliff’s two young daughters, as well as administrator of her $44,000 estate.

You know, my sister signed that will not too long after her husband died. She had come to the States and I saw her. She was not in any sort of stable condition to understand what she was signing. I believe in my heart she would not have done that. Ratliff’s husband, an Air Force officer, had died two years earlier.

She said the family tried on numerous occasions to adopt the children from Peterson. They were only babies when he took them. We tried several times to get them, but because of the will, it was just impossible. They should have been with the family, she said. Now it’s so hard on them. He never adopted them, but he’s basically the only father they’ve known. They believe he couldn’t have hurt her.

1985 Accidental Death of Elizabeth Ratliff Now Ruled Homicide

In 1985, local police did not suspect foul play in Ratliff’s death, so the case was closed. Nearly 20 years later, German police and prosecutors considered the possibility of a murder investigation.

DARMSTADT, Germany. German prosecutors have reopened the 17-year-old investigation into the death of a Rhein-Main DODDS teacher whose death was initially determined to be from natural causes.

Ger Neuber, a state prosecutor in Darmstadt, said a new autopsy report released in North Carolina was the deciding factor to reopen the case. The autopsy report found that Elizabeth Ratliff had died in 1985 from blunt force trauma to the head by a homicidal attack rather than of a brain hemorrhage while climbing the stairs of her home.

Page 5: Jurors Hear About Elizabeth Ratliff’s Death in the State of North Carolina v. Michael Iver Peterson Trial